We reprint here some comments of Roger Silverman on the political traditions of Greece)
Reformism never acquired the stable mass base in Greece that it had achieved historically in the rest of Europe. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Greece was subjected to a succession of wars, mass migrations, coups and military dictatorships; and its wartime and postwar history is closer to those of the Philippines and other South-East Asian countries than to Western Europe. Having first driven out the army of Italian fascism and then waged an indescribably heroic guerrilla struggle and popular resistance which single-handedly overthrew the Nazi occupation regime, the Greek population then suffered years of civil war against first the British and then the US army, followed by a period of repressive rule under a pro-American quisling regime. Then – with a renewed revolutionary upsurge once again gathering pace – came the brutal dictatorship of the colonels, which was itself eventually overthrown by a mass youth uprising. It was not until the election of the first PASOK government in 1981 and accession to the EU that an era of liberal reforms, bribes and handouts came, a pale imitation of the substantial welfare gains won over generations of struggle by workers in Western Europe.
That explains why, when PASOK was founded after the collapse of the dictatorship, by a member of the longstanding liberal Papandreou political dynasty seizing the chance to fill the gap between Stalinism and conservative authoritarian, he had to proclaim the new party as “a socialist party, not a social- democratic party” and present a radical face. Forty years later, the party is already in shreds, its collapse as spectacular as its earlier brief rise.
Now, George Papandreou has walked out of the party his father had created with such bombast, and – in an apparent ruse to siphon off enough votes from SYRIZA to deprive it of a crucial margin – declared yet another new party. It is hard to imagine this universally despised figure regaining enough credibility to succeed. The fate of PASOK was doomed once it had departed from initial radical slogans and tried to achieve the stability of a Western reformist party without enjoying the material economic base to sustain it. There is a lesson there too for SYRIZA.
Like PASOK between 1974 and 1981, SYRIZA too has materialized with lightning speed from obscurity to become the most popular party in Greece. Like PASOK did originally (although with a less compromised origin), it has inspired a new generation with radical slogans. To a far greater degree, SYRIZA is a classic centrist party, comparable to parties like the ILP and POUM in the 1930s. Such parties are like fireworks or radioactive elements: volatile, subject to explosive contradictions, destined either to transform themselves into revolutionary parties or to fizzle out. We have to be clear: the election of a SYRIZA government will be nothing like the election of an Hollande in France or a Miliband in Britain. If SYRIZA comes to power – and if it wins a plurality of votes, then surely it would be senselessly, unthinkably provocative for the other parties to block its path to office – then it will have a very brief chance to seize the opportunity.